When I was in kindergarten, Ms. Z taught us a song to sing about the garden we’d planted:

The Earth is our Mother, we must take care of her
The Earth in our Mother, we must take care of her

Chorus: Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon, Hey Yanna Ho Yanna Hey Yon Yon

Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take (x2)
The Earth is our Mother, she will take care of us (x2)

Needless to say, our garden thrived under nature’s number one nutrient: love. Pagans understand that you can’t find that in your DDT-sprayed big agro-business genetic freak show cucumber from Safeway.

So to speak power to the man–that is, in this case, beach rangers who’d threaten to shut down our bonfire–we were instructed to sing a hymn that, like a lot of paganism, had echoes of New Age pre-school, hobbits, and video games played by hermetic middle schoolers:

The river is flowing.
Flowing and growing.
The river is flowing
Down to the sea.

Mother, carry me.
Your child i will always be.
Father, carry me
Home to the sea.

I think this YouTube comment accurately sums up my feelings on this song, in spirit at least: “Im not even pagan or white…Im black, and have listened to hip hop my whole life. This song is awesome!! Good vibes and energies can be felt by all. Nice vid.” 

Part of the reason the song went well, I think, is that the group was into the sort of call-response  camp-chant repetition. More often than not, the person leading a chant would say something like “…and then we stop singing and repeat” and then the crowd would shout back, “AND THEN WE STOP SINGING AND REPEAT.”

Our next instructions were intuitive: find a partner and gaze into their eyes. The bikini-clad woman to my right–the one with a plastic sword attached to her capris–and the older woman to my left, who  kept narrowly missing my foot with her staff-slams during chants, both immediately found partners, leaving me to scan the group behind me for a partner.

I locked eyes with a shy, pretty brunette behind me. I say “lock” because  after about ten seconds, our nervous smiles had creased into something a little more uncomfortable. After about ten seconds we were both blushing, and by thirty I felt, rightfully or not, like Berlusconi at a Bunga Bunga party.

Berlusconi Want Woman

When I finally turned to look away, the bikini swash-buckler, chest dirty with sand from past rituals, greeted me with the kind of stare a hawk gives a rabbit in the moment before its talons rip it to shreds.

Next was a ritual where “Holly,” played by a Scandinavian with spotty control over his vowels, passed the seasonal torch to “Oak,” a short, shrubbish looking fellow who appeared to have done some very thorough method acting. “Oak!” we cheered. “Holly!” We were then asked to tie spells and bad karma from the past season to a straw man for burning.

The Old Man and the Sea

My patience for weird was waning. It was after all, the longest day of the year. I’d already seen the weathered backside of a “Vagina Warrior” hatted-hippie, sang elfin earth chants, and invented my own noise for each of the elements (similarly defined by pagans and Captain Planet).

Lacking the courage to follow the lemmings into a cathartic plunge in the sea, I watched from a dune as the Vagina Warrior, stripped even of his hat, led the charge into the Pacific’s icy embrace. His yelp and crotch grab made it clear perhaps the best lesson of the season: what Mother Nature gives, she can always take away.